A crumbling house, rotten, moldy walls, a family secret and eccentric people. Not what glamorous Noemí expects when she decides to visit her niece after a worrying letter from her. Catalina, just married to an Englishman, lives in a very old Mexican mansion in the country. What Noemí finds defies all belief. I really enjoyed this over the top and creepy tale of romance and horror. Well written, with lots of suspense and a bit of mycology.
Things My Mother Told Me
Anjali is someone you'll want to root for. Even with her mistakes and romantic missteps you'll stick by her. She is central to the feel good factor that runs through this book. There is a balance, perfectly struck, between the funny and serious in Anjali's story, and that of her sister and their Sri Lankan mother. That perfect balance is also evident in how the cultural divide between Anjali's Sri Lankan and English identities is portrayed.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold
There's one question that runs through this book - what would you do if you could go back back in time, who would you meet? It's the question facing the four different characters and one that will undoubtedly cross the reader's mind. But this is not a time travelling adventure. It's a more a story where characters face up to their regrets, relationships and to things lost. A simply told, beautiful story of four parts, set in a Tokyo cafe.
Like a multiplex of images reflected in a cracked mirror, this story presents a fractured and disturbed protagonist. This is a harrowing book, sucking the reader into a vortex of self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide. The narrative thread loops backwards and forwards: a shifting version of what went before. Rooted in the author's own experience, it is a perplexing work of profound imagination and quite unlike anything I've ever read.
Key to Treehouse Living
Don’t be put off by the fact this book is written entirely as a glossary. I worried it was a literary gimmick, but soon found myself caught up in William’s life, and his unusual way of capturing moments, ideas and feelings. It’s a strange way to tell a story, but I found it funny, moving, and a unique reading experience!
The Black Tides of Heaven
Twins born to be raised as monks, but their destiny is to be parted. Starting of as a fantasy fairy tale this novella draws you into a magical world where good and evil struggle for power. Gradually, the picture became clearer and guessing moved forward to a better understanding. The sometimes shrouded language and the fluidity of gender give it a mythical quality wherein basic human needs are still paramount. (#1 in a series of four).
My Dark Vanessa
This powerful and challenging story seriously threw me off-kilter. Vanessa Wye is a complex character, not always easy to like or get a handle on. Graphic scenes of sexual abuse made me recoil, but I still read compulsively late into the night. A sure-footed debut which makes you appreciate the lasting effect abuse has on the victim and the courage it takes for them to acknowledge it.
Red at the Bone
This elegiac series of vignettes, written in an evocative jazzy prose style, deals with the impact of class and race history on a black American family, leaving a raw emotional legacy across the generational lines. The narrative is told from alternating perspectives, with a poignancy and universality which will find resonance in the current climate of identity politics. The audio version is highly recommended for a fully immersive experience.
Sharks in the Time of Saviours
I was blown away by this strong debut. By the language, the description of the stark nature of Hawai’i, the people in it. Noa, touched by the Gods according to his mother but suffering for it. Brother Dean, the basketballstar and sister Kaui, ambitious student. Their wish to become someone, to be loved for who they are. But life is throwing them a curveball. Stunning reading.
Three short sentences can hardly describe the whole range of impressions I got while reading this. Compassion for Janey, sympathy for the cause she gets involved in, extremely high appreciation for style and expression, experiencing languidness and urgency at the same time. So many voices, so many viewpoints, so many layers. I imagine great discussions with friends. A turbulent, mindblowing, unique ride…
The Summer of Reckoning
The Luberon, Provence - a landscape of quaint hilltop villages overlooking rolling fields of lavender. Don't let the romance of the setting fool you, this is a story of disaffected lives longing for escape. The chemistry between sisters Céline and Jo is brilliantly realised, the summer heat palpable, stoking a simmering pot of teen sex, racism and violence until it boils over. Grim and gritty is my genre of choice, I loved it!
Six perspectives on one young woman's murder. Who did lock Lizzie in the tower? Are the three convicted men really to blame? And who created the Dead in Six Days challenge? A tense and shocking story of a seemingly innocent game ending with disastrous consequences. As the story was told by different observers I felt buffeted between belief and incredulity. Whatever the truth, the result is heartbreaking for everyone including us.
Writers and Lovers
This intimate novel follows wannabe writer Casey's growth into adulthood, her search for love and the fulfillment of her dream. The pointed observations about the uncertainty of a young woman after the recent death of her mother, her love-life and the pretensions of writers are striking and punctuated with humour.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
The disappearance of children is investigated by 9 yr old Jai and two pals who live in a ‘basti’ (communal village) near a railway line in India. Beautiful descriptions of the ever changing weather and light, the noise and the smells, especially of food as the children are always hungry. Very funny despite the dangers the children face and the horrors that unfold. A brilliant debut novel long listed for the Women’s Prize 2020. I loved it.
Drawing on the lives of four women linked by mental illness, this novel touches on many themes: alternative history, personal legacy and the power of imagination. The psychiatric hospital setting lends an air of claustrophobia. I grappled too with a fragmented, digressive narrative but my perseverance paid off. These are fascinating characters vividly portrayed, making it one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time.
Alex, a journalist, falls passionately in love with Ranna, a gifted photographer. The place, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, spoke to my imagination. Ranna and Alex not so much. But after a while I got intrigued: what has Ranna been hiding, why are all her former boyfriends dead, and who is the mysterious stalker she is talking about. Just like Alex I sometimes had enough, but I kept reading all the same.
To any lover of heroic fantasy stories this must be a treat! I had to figure out whether I wanted to choose a side, who belonged where, and the meaning of all the described cultural elements. I learned about fighting tactics, motivations and feelings that show an overwhelming enthusiasm for warfare, in which known history is cleverly adapted into the fiction. A truly epic story with lots of nuances. Being part 1, it ends with a cliffhanger...
Library of the Unwritten
If there is one lesson to be learned from this story, it is this: never annoy a librarian. Do not even irritate one, not even if you are a demon, an arch-fiend of Hell. And never forget the power of recalling an inter-library loan. Librarians have ways of dealing with even the most difficult, the most powerful of demons. All you have to do is remember Giles, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The First Time Lauren Paling Died
This novel made me feel quite uneasy but at the same time it's a moving tale of loss and love. Lauren captures flashes of parallel worlds in which she lives on after her death. Her parents live in their own world. The disappearance of her father's boss is the recurrent theme. This spark of a mystery is a bonus and added to the suspense and my reading pleasure.
The Discomfort of Evening
Comfort of any kind is in short supply: tragedy, grief and the coping strategies of a devout farming family are at the heart of a deeply disturbing story. Adolescent Jas obsesses about death, sex and bodily functions. Offbeat humour gives way to an impassive account of life falling apart. Although I was transfixed by Jas's world of vulnerability and violence, I did not leave it unscathed - but it was worth it.
This book is a wonderful hodgepodge; literary fiction mixed with fantasy fairytale, sprinkled with historical, gothic and romance fiction too. The diverse writing can make it challenging to read, but it’s worth just sinking into the book as much as you can and allowing the experience to wash over you. Some of the interior short stories are chillingly brilliant, and whilst there are moments of humour, much of it is haunting and unsettling.
An intense, claustrophobic and gripping read. It grabbed my moral certainties and bounced them off the walls. Rachel spoke directly to me - but could I trust her - and what would I have done in her situation? As the temperature rises, the threat of collateral damage radiates from every page.
Lucy is struggling to come to terms with her life in her grandfather's cottage in Donegal. Brought up in Sunderland by her stressed mother, a drunken father and with a deaf brother, she goes to university in London and becomes a different person - but not necessarily someone that she likes. This is a gripping coming-of-age story, told in sequences but not chronologically. It really is entrancing.
Meet the most bizarre drug trafficking matriarch in the Parisian underworld. Darkly comic and surreal, the sardonic narration in the distinctive voice of the protagonist is mixed with snappy streetwise dialogue and acerbic social commentary on racism and exclusion in the banlieues. It's an offbeat and seductive portrayal of a nihilistic skewed morality which will have you checking your own moral compass.
Find Me (1)
Lives unlived, missed opportunities and second chances are recurring motifs in what is a philosophical and melancholy novel. Die-hard fans of Call Me by Your Name, hoping for a repeat performance of Elio and Oliver's romance may be disappointed, but it's still a sensual and intimate experience. Makes you reflect on your own past relationships, the fragile nature and heady intoxication of love.
Say Say Say
This moving and reflective story, though not driven by plot, action or dialogue, gives the reader much to contemplate. Ella is not a character I particularly warmed to, but admired for her honest approach to her role - she knows she falls short and strives to be better. Really nails the dynamics of the relationship between a carer and the family she has been hired to help.
This story is based on an Israeli cargo plane crashing into one of the Bijlmer tower blocks in Amsterdam. But because it is set in London it has resonances of the Grenfell Tower fire. It's a story about the survivors, how they cope with the trauma and how it impacts on the rest of their lives. It is a harrowing tale - but it is full of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.
Snow, Dog, Foot
An old hermit fending for himself in the Italian Alps is cut off from the local community by an avalanche, with only a stray dog for company - and a rival for the scant food available. Man and dog are pitted against against Nature but the odd couple relationship is lightened with gallows humour: which one will end up eating the other? A convincing journey into madness and delusion - both unsettling and deeply affecting.
The Tenth Muse
Is it a fallacy for a woman to think she must choose between her personal life and her ambition? In a complex, multi-stranded story, Katherine, a talented mathematician, is faced with such a choice. Whilst the mathematical concepts were completely over my head, themes of identity, gender, history and love meant there was much to keep me turning the pages. Surprisingly, piqued my interest in a subject which has always left me baffled.
Will and Testament
This isn't a book that will keep you up till the wee hours of the morning, hotly anticipating the next page. However, it is a slow burner: brooding, dark, complicated and full of raw emotion, denial and dark memories. The story starts with a simple premise - an estranged family, a will and the distribution of the summerhouses. It ends on a very different note - one of hope, honesty and reconciliation.
Less is more in this family saga, where lives are condensed into a few pages. The narrative shifts from person to person, backwards and forwards in time, creating a kaleidoscope of voices and associations. Yes, it's sometimes hard keeping tabs on who is related to who, who is black and who is white. What emerges is a story greater than the sum of its parts, and more memorable I thought, because of what is left unsaid.
The poetic beauty of this book has stayed with me for a long time. The special relationship which develops between an older woman and a young man is very touching. Nature, transience and the embracing of life are all themes which are explored in such a gentle and subtle way that it is a pure pleasure to read. This is the most enjoyable book I've read for a long time.
The Art of the Body
Narrated with a dispassionate, unsentimental approach to the subject, this is an uncompromisingly candid portrayal of a young man with cerebral palsy and the impact on his carer's role. It is an uncomfortable read at times, as well as a challenge to the common perception of disabled people as being defined by their disability.
A dark Norman tale of disorder, decay and death is played out through an eclectic mix of characters. The vivid descriptions bring the desperation of Nobber’s townsfolk to life in such a way, that I became ensnared alongside them. A captivating story with a troubled heart, this book is one I won't forget.
Amazon are going to hate this book. It is a vision of hell in one of their warehouses in the future. A meditation on how doing nothing takes the option for the powerful, told through a sort of love story. Zinnia and Paxton are the engaging couple at the heart of this novel. The question is, are they doing the right thing? You have to decide that.
Crime is the genre, but Maggie Gee gives you so much more than whodunit. Yes there are two violent deaths, but not in an order you expect. To be inside Monica's mind is to experience depths of emotional abuse, disregard for PC niceties, raw creativity, and all that you want of a teacher at your bog-standard estate school. You'll have your light on at 2am, and then wish you'd read it slower for the hits on Brexit Britain and the black humour.
Small Days and Nights
A young Indian-Italian inherits a dilapidated villa near a beach in Tamil Nadu and has to take care of her sister who has Down syndrome. Quite a challenge for the hedonistic Grace. But she adapts quickly. The fishermen see her mainly as the rich outsider because Grace isn't always sympathetic. I must say she irritated me at times but in the end I sympathised with her because she genuinely loves her sister.
Asghar and Zahra
Not so much a culture clash, but a clash of personalities lies behind this bittersweet (and surprisingly risque) comedy of manners, as newlyweds from the same Muslim community struggle to adjust to married life. Their story, added to the background social commentary, provides a more entertaining glimpse than usual into the conflict between traditional Muslim community values and those of modern British society.
Very dark but funny entry into the world of anti-heroine Cynthia: reality TV, sexual obsession and a terrifying will to win. More than a touch of Donna Tartt's novels too, I felt, as I tried to work out just who was controlling whom. Warning: definitely NOT for dog lovers.
Mr Godley's Phantom
Martin, a returned soldier from WW2, suffering from what would now be diagnosed as PTSD, takes a job as a chauffeur driving reclusive Mr Godley's Rolls Royce Phantom. The reader may have sympathy for Martin to begin with, but this sympathy may be misplaced as the story develops - the clue is in the word Phantom! A sad, but oddly amusing and convincing read. I enjoyed it!
A Particular Kind of Black Man
A young Nigerian living in Utah describes his growth into adulthood, his insecurity and the feeling of not belonging after his schizophrenic mother leaves him. The scenes with Tunde's mother particularly touched me. She is unpredictable and abuses him but he tells no one. His stepmother is friendly but looks at him differently than at the other kids. He feels utterly lonely. But he learns to deal with it, he finds love and that offered me hope.
Just one shift from the accepted version of reality is the hallmark of these short stories. It's the way they blend seamlessly to form magic realisms that will get under your mind's skin and make you think a little differently ...
She Would Be King
Think of it like this - the Fantastic Four take on the slave traders. A witch, a spirit, a man who can disappear and a man who cannot be harmed by weapons do battle with slave traders in the newly independent Liberia. These four are brought together in a stunning narrative of extraordinary power. It is like The Famished Road on steroids.
These short stories comprise acutely observed portraits of everyday life and survival in modern Belfast. Dealing with loneliness, loss and disengagement from community, Erskine has a sharp ear for dialogue, capturing the dry Irish wit and wry turn of phrase - an arrogant character is summed up as 'a fellow who would put a bob on himself both ways'. She makes the mundane fascinating and all the characters come alive. A wonderful debut collection.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
This book is a beautifully written, but unflinching account of sexual abuse, friendship, fear, power and love during the last 45 years of political, religious and cultural upheaval in Turkey. And its final quarter is a sensitive yet slapstick burial attempt that really worked for me, though I sometimes hated myself for laughing. PLEASE don't be put off by the book's title or blurb, just read it and recommend to all friends and book groups.
In a deadpan satire on the ‘realistic novel’ the author’s alter-ego uses a hand-written diary as ‘graphological therapy’ to cure writer’s block. His plan to calm the frustration of the creative process by writing about nothing, concentrating on calligraphy instead of content, fails dismally amid his own neurotic mind-chatter and procrastination, plus myriad domestic interruptions, largely featuring the amusing antics of Pongo the family dog.
The House at Bishopsgate
London 1611 and wealthy merchant Paul Pindar returns from Syria with a fortune, several secrets and a diamond which may be cursed! Told by Paul, his wife, her best friend and his estranged servant, this is a sumptuously written novel of which Wilkie Collins would have been proud. Set wonderfully in its period, this is the third in a trilogy, but can certainly be read as a stand alone. I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.
You will Be Safe Here
An exploration of the Afrikaner psyche, from the Second Boer War to the present, including their deeply ingrained racism. The characters are generally not pleasant, but they are sympathetic. It is important to remember their humanity, as Damian Barr explores the fear and hatred that created them. A difficult but essential book - and so beautifully written.
Euna, a young woman, escapes her cramped life in a Celtic religion based- women's community in the Hebrides after falling in love with an outsider. Muireall, head of the community, I found especially frightening because of her strange, erratic behaviour. Aram, the love-interest, also has a strange life but his motives for living the way he did I could understand. Feeling very satisfied after finishing this weird and intriguing tale.
Tirzah and the Prince of Crows
This story of Tirzah, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood in a 1970's Welsh valley community, is so richly detailed that it reads as though the words have been embroidered directly onto the page. The book tells of Tirzah's struggles with chapel conservatism in a male dominated community and her ensuing rebellion with all that surrounds her. It is a story vividly told, reflecting its roots in Welsh folklore.